Board Game Review: Enemy Coast Ahead
A Dambuster Raid game reviewed by Richard Martin
- world war ii, air combat, turn-based, tactical, europe, intermediate, advanced, english, 1, printed - black & white, single unit
On May 16th, 1943, nineteen Avro Lancaster bombers made an evening take off from their RAF airfield at Scampton and set off on a mission that would become the stuff of legend – the destruction of the dams of the Ruhr Valley. Most of the Lancasters carried an experimental bomb code named “Upkeep” which was so large that each had to be externally mounted on spinning mountings under the bombers. These bombs were designed to be released at approximately 60 feet above the water near the dam and then skip across the surface of the water, avoiding the torpedo nets deployed near the dams and detonate against the wall of the dam. This mission was to be performed at night, all while avoiding German night fighters, flak and obstructions which could rip the wings off the low flying bombers! To many of the planners in the RAF, this mission was impossible!
Enemy Coast Ahead: The Dambuster Raid is a new solitaire game from GMT which examines all aspects of this amazingly audacious attack and it delivers with complete player immersion and nail baiting tension.
The box art is nicely laid out with stunningly evocative cover artwork. The contents include laminated charts, a rule book, a scenario book, a very large play mat, dice, counters and plastic zip lock baggies.
The game rules are written in a programmed manner which allows the player to learn the basic rules before moving on to the intermediate and advanced rules. The basic rules cover scenarios 1 to 5 which are the attacks on each of the dams. The intermediate rules cover scenarios 6 to 9 which cover not only the attacks on the dams but the challenges involved in the flights from the UK to the Ruhr Valley. The advance rules cover scenario 10 which is the complete campaign and includes the formation of the project and the assigning and training of flight and ground crews, planning disinformation campaigns to keep the Germans from finding out about the attack, hunting out spies, equipping and modifying the Lancasters and finally flying to and attacking the dams plus getting back home safely to the UK.
Scenarios 1 to 5 can be played in as little time as ½ hour with 6 to 9 taking several hours to play. The complete campaign is perfect for a multi-day event. Luckily, GMT has included logs to help the player keep track of the bombers and their crews.
The game mat is huge – 34 inches by 22 inches – and filled with status bars allowing the player to keep track of everything from the training levels of the crews to the positions of the bombers during the attack runs on the dams. Since the attacks were at night, there is no terrain per say and the actual “maps” of the dams are just an abstraction allowing the player to note the position of the Lancasters or night fighters in the Ruhr area plus keep track of the status of all important game factors. There are a lot of things to keep track of. For example, a specific Lancaster is rated for crew quality, modifications to the airplane, damage to the airplane, and whether it is armed with “Upkeep”. The mission status of the Lancaster would be its position such as over the UK, over the Dutch Coast, circling near or far from a target dam, whether it is in the approach to a specific dam, etc.
Threats to the airplanes can come from either mechanical defects such as “faulty Merlin engines” or external threats as posed by flak, night fighters or even flights of birds or bats scared in to the air by the airplanes’ low level flights.
Designer White seems to have thought of everything and, while the rule book and scenario book are jammed packed with information, the structure of the rules never overwhelms the reader. The game is a perfect solitaire experience but it easily accommodates multiple players with each player taking one or more of the Lancaster bombers. Random events which affect the bombers during flight are drawn from several different styles of event chits which are drawn out of either a bag or a cup. Depending on the crew quality, they may be able to avoid the events but if they can’t, the events must be played through to see how if the bomber can continue on its mission.
The turn sequence for a Lancaster making a bombing run at a dam is as follows:
- A Lancaster circles the target dam in the Circling Far and then the Circling Near box on the mat. Once the player is ready to begin the attack run, the Lancaster is moved to the Approach box on the mat.
- An “approach vector” is rolled for which modifies the altitude and speed chits which are drawn during the approach to attack the dam.
- Draw a number of both altitude and speed chits which is modified by the approach vector die roll as well as the training of the crew flying the bomber.
- Some modifications to the altitude are allowed such as whether the attacking Lancaster is equipped with Aldis Lights which allowed the pilot to more accurately judge the plane’s altitude during low level flight (these lights did, unfortunately, also attract anti-aircraft gunners).
- Each altitude and speed chit has modifiers which can either help or harm the chances to successfully drop the bomb and destroy the dam.
- Next, the player checks to see if the Lancaster is hit by flak attacks which can either miss, damage or destroy the bomber.
- If the bomber has survived this long in the 10 second attack run, the player then checks to see if the “Upkeep” was successfully released and if it hit the dam.
- As the Lancaster pulls up check to see if it is hit by flak or it hits a barrage balloon.
- If the Lancaster survives it can try and head back home.
- The damage done to the dam is revealed either during the phase before the bomber returns to England or, if the weather doesn’t permit it, by a recon flight the next day.
Now this sequence may seem to be very difficult to follow but all the different turns are easily tracked on the player’s aid cards which walk the player through almost all aspects of the game. In the campaign game, if some of the dams are not destroyed, the player can plan follow up missions over the next few days. In two games that I’ve played, I have yet to destroy a dam but I plan to keep trying. Enemy Coast Ahead is a fantastic game – I almost want to call it a simulation and not a game because it is so detailed.
For players interested in this fascinating aspect of the air war over Europe, Enemy Coast Ahead is a must play game! I can’t recommend it enough.
Publisher: GMT Games
Designer: Jeremy White
ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Richard Martin has written film and game reviews for over 20 years and has been playing war games and role playing games since the days of Ogre and Basic Dungeons and Dragons. Additionally, he writes screenplays, games and works in the legal profession. (Don’t tell anyone but Richard prefers writing games and movies to law work any day.)